Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Same Ol' Same Ol'…

There seems to be a pattern that's formed over the last decade. Apple releases a product. It's different. It doesn't follow the rules. It defies a lot of widely accepted assumptions. Then, lots of people all over the Internet, both so-called pundits and everyday schmoes pronounce that it's a horrible device that nobody in their right mind would ever want. It doesn't support Ogg! It has no floppy drive! It has no multi-tasking! Product X already does this and it's cheaper!. Etc., etc. ad nauseum.

And then the product goes on to be a huge success, expanding the perception of who uses that type of device greatly. The iMac, the iPod, the iPhone.

So, here we go again with the iPad.

Here's the thing: It's not a general-purpose computer. It's not a Mac. They did this really subtle thing to tell you that: they didn't put "Mac" in the name anywhere. If it had been the MacPad1, then maybe some of these complaints would be perfectly valid. Maybe expecting it to act a certain way would be appropriate.

But it's not a Mac. It's a new consumer device. It's targeted at people who do e-mail, surf the web a little, play a few games, watch some movies, and listen to music. It's not a replacement for a computer if you do more than that on your computer. But most people don't. We geeks are the minority on that point, and for many people, a regular computer is both overkill and frustrating. The iPad is not a tablet computer in the sense that Windows tablets are. But what it is, is all that the vast majority of people will ever want out of a computer, and it fits in a briefcase, purse, or backpack and weighs less than two pounds.

Don't fault it for not being what it's not supposed to be and don't assume that in the handful of hours you've had since you first learned about it, that you've put more thought into this product than the engineers and designers at Apple. You haven't. I haven't either. But I see what they're doing, and it's brilliant.

Now, I very much understand the fear that we're on a slow march towards a completely enclosed platform, and that would be a bad destination. But, since Apple sold well over 3 million Macs last quarter, continues to contribute to open source projects like WebKit and Darwin, and is continuing to innovate on the Mac with things like GCD and OpenCL, I don't think that's really where we're headed. I think that Apple has realized that we all have different computing needs, and is trying to provide the best computing experience relative to our needs across the spectrum. I don't ever see the iPhone OS running on an eight-processor tower with two large screens. Just because some of Apple's products are locked down doesn't mean that the only possible destination is a future where all Apple products are. I think we're going to a place where both professionals and consumers can get what they want out of computing devices. If we go anywhere else, people will start abandoning the platform.

But as long as there are computers running Mac OS X for those of us who need the power and flexibility, this trajectory is actually a good thing2. For the bulk of consumers, ease of use trumps power or flexibility. If it doesn't for you, don't buy an iPad, or at least, don't buy it as your primary computer.

And if you doubt the efficacy of targeting the consumer market like this, just think about the fact that there are now more iPhone OS devices in existence than there are Macs, even before the iPad ships.


1 Like many others, I'd love a true MacPad - a device similar to this in hardware that runs unfettered OS X. But that doesn't mean this isn't a good product or won't be a success
2 Think of how much less time you'd have to spend being tech support for friends and family if they were all on a locked down device like the iPad. Just sayin'



44 comments:

Mostly Torn said...

I think the iPad has a huge potential.

Sure, I was disappointed it's not a full Mac OS computer, doesn't do multitasking and won't wash my socks.

But for what you do get at the rough price of a Kindle DX, it does WAY more.

For school, students can use it to take notes, potentially access their textbooks, write reports using iWork, etc.. *and* get one heck of an entertainment device to use it to listen to their music library and watch movies and play games.

Just that market alone would be huge, but it will appeal to all sorts of demographics - even us geeks. It's not my dream hand-held computer, but I'll be buying one the day it's available.

David said...

I would like to add to your statement that not everyone is a geek. Not even geeks are geeks ALL THE TIME.

If I'm in 'couch mode' rather than 'desk mode' I think an iPad would be a brilliant device to relax with, to read a book, to watch a movie, to play a game, and if I felt inclined, to surf the web.

Jeff LaMarche said...

David:

Yep, going on vacation? Do you want to lug your MBP, or just throw an iPad with a few movies, few books, your music collection. Doesn't add much weight to your luggage, and lets you keep up with e-mail, surf the web if you have insomnia some night, etc.

K. A. Barber said...

I don't understand why everyone is being so short sighted about this thing. I can think of so many uses for something like this. I think that as this product comes into it's own we will lot back on this negativity and laugh.

Joel Bernstein said...

I'll be interested to see whether they ever add printer support to the iPad.

Printing is not a power-user feature, in fact if I had to guess I'd say it skews the other way. It is kind of antithetical to the whole paperless digital document thing the iPad has going, though.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Joel:

Are you sure there won't be printing support? Maybe not plugged-in directly, but I'd be surprised if Pages won't print out of the box onto a printer plugged into an Airport...

warmi said...

"think of how much less time you'd have to spend being tech support for friends and family if they were all on a locked down device like the iPad. Just sayin'"

Well, what are you going to do if they come back complaining that this thing doesn't want to display hulu.com - an entirely reasonable and in fact very likely scenario for an average non-geeky person.

Stuart Maxwell said...

The problem with the iPad is that it's *almost* useless without a computer to sync with. If you want to store your photos, music, videos, or documents on there, you're going to need a computer (PC or Mac) to sync the content across. So you end with a phone (or smartphone/iphone if needed), a computer, _and_ an iPad.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Warmi:

Nothing you can do. And if enough people buy these things, Hulu will offer an alternative to their crappy Flash video client.

warmi said...

Well, I am still gonna get it just cause I am a geek - couldn't care less for their "big" computers but I really like their portable stuff.

JonB said...

My two cents (not really directed at anyone here):

Both the iPhone and iPad are using the same codebase. Any improvements to the general OS will undoubtly end up on both devices.

How long did it take us to get Copy and Paste? OS-frickin-3. They wanted to get copy and paste right (for touch input) before giving it to us; getting it wrong could have had some bad consequences for the user. We may have to wait to get it, but boy did they it right...

...For all we know they are currently working hard on iPhone OS 4.0 and some great new features to build into. Think multitasking, new notifications, new homescreen etc. My bet is bet they aren't quite ready for prime-time yet but apple wanted to get the iPad out there. There's a reason that the iPad is only running OS 3.2; it doesn't have many new features on top of 3.1.

If and when we see the next iPhone OS I have no doubt the major new features will be implemented onto both the iPhone AND the iPad.

As a further aside: The first gen iphone runs OS 3 right? I'd bet on the iPad being able to run iPhone OS 6.0.

All i'm saying is. Don't bet against apple and the iPad.

Ben said...

Well put. I for one, can't wait until I get my grubby little hands on one!!!

PB said...

I was at an event recently where a locally famous iPhone developer rattled the dimensions of the iPhone off the top of their head in pixels. I thought to myself what kind of nut writes hardcoded screen sizes when you know the tablet/iPad is coming. I just want to know how my app looks on the device!! :-)

Scott said...

Well stated Jeff. I agree. I immediately felt it was more of a device for the masses than the geeks. We sometimes forget how many people are still not comfortable with simple PC skills - until our Mother calls us to help with cut & paste.

Jeff LaMarche said...

PB:

We all know the dimensions, whether we've hardcoded it or not. But, admittedly, a lot of people have hardcoded dimensions. I think we did it in the first edition of Beginning iPhone Dev some place, actually.

When you're under pressure to get something out the door, you don't always take into account all possible future changes or additions, but at least they've done the whole pixel-doubling thing so it shouldn't matter for existing apps. That was a stroke of brilliance.

Wes Kroesbergen said...

@Stuart A computer is not necessarily required if you're starting a music collection, and purchasing directly from iTunes. I suspect that the rumoured iTunes 'cloud' version will only further serve to negate the need for an external storage device.

@Jeff Brilliant piece. Apple has destroyed the market for other cheap portables (whether Kindle or netbooks). And they already own the expensive portable market, and cellular smartphone market. I suspect that Apple is swiftly moving to the top of the overall mobile market. I find it ironic that Steve Jobs is fulfilling the original vision of Bill Gates for tablet PC's in every home.

Elai said...

What i find disappointing about cut and paste is that it is actually a bit awkward to use. It almost feels like apple procrastinated on the feature.

TC said...

Nice rant, Jeff. Thanks.

I can't wait to get my hands on one and kick the tires. It sounds like it'll be great for a lot of what we do around my house, but won't replace the desktop, laptop, or iPhone--but that's exactly where Apple said they'd positioned the device.

It'll be interesting to see how it fares with the non-technical types that just want to consume media--I'll be surprised if it doesn't do very well.

Now I must go dig into the new SDK. Yum!

Sean said...

Maybe it's just me but I remember the original response from people over the iphone was mostly positive (http://apple.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/01/09/1857231), and the introduction of 3rd party apps sent everyone into a frenzy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IPhone_sales_per_quarter_simple.svg).

But this iPad is genuinely rubbing people the wrong way. I expect this to sit in the MacBook Air category, attractive to a certain crowd, but never sitting in the spotlight.

Jeff LaMarche said...

Sean:

While only time will tell, there's a huge difference between the MBA and the iPad: price range. MBA was a beautiful niche computer, but pricey for what it could do. The iPad, on the other hand, starts out only about 25% higher than the Kindle and does a lot more.

MBA was a niche product (mostly, IMHO, to test the waters on doing the unibody design). iPad is pure mass market product.

Matt said...

I completely agree that this is an easy computer, one that's locked down so that a user can't mess it up.

...but I wonder what your thoughts are on the lack of external storage. I strongly believe that a device like this should have an SD storage slot. I think you could still keep the system locked down, but have that. I think Apple is really showing their true nature with these sort of decisions.

Not having an SD slot is BAD for the consumer, but GOOD for Apple because it makes it easier for them to differentiate between the different iPad price points.

Hendrik said...

Excellent post. While I was admittedly disappointed when watching the keynote (it didn't have a single WOW moment for me, except for the price) I think this thing still has a ton of potential.

As a developer of photo apps I am saddened by the lack of a camera. But then again, it makes sense. It would be an awkward device to take photos with. And Apple focused on getting the price down, so spending money on a camera that few people would end up using was not an option.

Stuart raises an interesting point, that you still need a desktop to sync this thing. I really had hoped for a great syncing API in the SDK to let apps sync data wirelessly across the web rather than using USB. Maybe that will still happen for OS 4.0 or 5.0?

owen said...

Well said Jeff!

@joel actually the iPhone already has a number of apps that allow printing (especially to wireless-enabled printers) though it is not yet an OS-level feature if that is what you were suggesting.

cjr said...

From a dev point of view, one of the things I will like is not having to drill down through the interface ala iPhone. Will be able to make use of that large screen and bring to the fore functionality that is buried deep.

Tom Frauenhofer said...

This is a great piece.

What's amazing to me, though, is the number of "pundits" who forget that Apple is in business to make money, not follow fads. If these "knowledgeable people" were running Apple it would have been toast years ago. In fact, I just read a piece comparing the iPad to the HP Tablet (the "Slate" that Ballmer briefly showed in his epic CES keynote) and they said both that Apple should be worried because it runs Windows 7 and (at the same time) said that Windows 7 is not designed for a finger interface so it might not work.

Yeesh!

I was so happy to see that they focused on iWork, especially Keynote. I can't count the number of discussions I've had with "road warrior" types who were looking for a smaller device to view/display presentations. If Apple can get people to switch from PowerPoint to Keynote then this demographic alone might make the iPad profitable. Same point for Numbers, btw. And Apple knows this, judging by the amount of time they spent on this in the presentation.

Color me psyched, and I'm getting one when they ship.

(BTW, given that Apple has been running ads saying positive things about AT&T's network, the contract-free plan for the iPad data, and that AT&T and Apple will now allow voice over IP apps to run, I wonder if this shows that AT&T is pulling out all the stops to keep Apple, and that Apple is rewarding them for this. A very interesting development here.)

Maen said...

Maybe the point is precisely that people expected a MacPad (I certainly did) and got an iPad.

I'm not disapointed in how the product works (it's a brilliant net-book-tablet-thingy, and it's beautiful to). No. I'm disappointed in what it is (a net-book-tablet-thingy)

I'll certainly give it a try if I can lay my hands on one, but I'll probably go for a traditional tablet

Random to Focus said...

time to make those killer apps. That will make the ipad fly.

Terry Westley said...

This is one geek who likes what Apple put in this device and won't miss what they left out. The biggest win is the ability to choose wifi with no monthly fee or wifi and 3G service. No, wait, the biggest win is the price for what you get.

So what if it doesn't run Xcode?

(This comment system will be much easier to use on an iPad than my iPhone. I have to memorize the Word verification because I can't see it with the landscape keyboard.)

James Madison said...

I'll be interested to see whether they ever add printer support to the iPad.

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Jon Lundy said...

There is a market for people who would never want to use a computer and who want something simple that 'just works'. This is close to that niche. Right now the iphones (and it sounds like the ipads) are tied to having a computer for updates, and other tasks. If this could be removed then it would be a great tool.

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Jim Glidewell said...

While the iPad will initially need a "host" Mac or PC for syncing and backup, I think that it is pretty clear that Apple intends this to be a stand-alone device at some point in the relatively near future.

This will take a bit of time to nail down properly, so I wouldn't expect to see anything until next year at the earliest.

There are a couple of options - one is the cloud, as was previously mentioned. Another is a modified Time Capsule that serves as the backup device as well as the household shared storage for multiple(!) iPads.

Finally, there is one sleeper "hobby" device that may come into play here - the AppleTV. It has all the essential hardware (USB, Wifi, hard drive, CPU) to serve as a iPad base station for backup and sharing, plus it serves as a set-top media box in its own right. What better device for syncing media to in a household with no Macs or PCs?

This could explain why Apple has kept the AppleTV around, and continued to improve it, despite (supposedly) lackluster sales. But I am fairly sure there will be some "synergy" between the iPad and AppleTV beyond the extra-cool Remote app upgrade I expect to see closely follow the iPad's launch...

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I like iPhone.

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